Saturday, 28 March 2009

Lord of the Flies

Saturday 28th March. Tean and Weaver Hills, 8:45 - 11:00.

Not a lot of time for birding today, I had to be over at Burton Albion in the afternoon. To be on hand for my dad who was hob-nobbing in the directors lounge, and being wined and dined with my step-mother and a couple of old friends as a birthday surprise. And to cap the day off, a splendid 4-0 win for the Brewers against Grays Athletic.

So a walk around home to start with. Checking the same stretch of the River Tean near home, where I was lucky enough to find a Firecrest a year ago. Unsurprisingly no Firecrest this time, just like every other time I've checked over the last few weeks, but a couple of Chiffchaffs and a Grey Wagtail.

And so, to my first spring check of the Weaver Hills. Which produced.............. Nowt! Well, actually there were a good number of Skylarks up there, and it was really windy. I shall persist with it, but it could turn into the largest birding lead balloon since, well, er, I don't know what.

Sunday 29th March, Blithfield Reservoir, 11:45 - 14:45

Woohoo it's British Summer Time! Light evenings are here. Although it does mean it's a struggle to get up early this morning after putting the clocks forward. Oh alright then, for me it's difficult to get up early ANY morning! Should've done today as well. I was going to Blithfield anyway, when I received information of a Red-Breasted Merganser in Tad Bay.

No sign of the bird while I was in Tad Bay though, but there were 4 Goosander, 3 Shelduck, 3 Oystercatcher. Not much different in Blithe Bay, then returning to the car there was a Swallow, perched on the TV ariel of the house, next to the education centre.

It seems that something new appears every time I go to Blithers these days. This time, new screens have been put up next to the feeding station at the education centre:

Over towards the dam were 3 male Wheatears and a pair of Grey Wagtails. Also, to be expected here for a while now, lots and lots of flies! They really do get everywhere along the dam when the sun shines. They're not biting insects but they just get everywhere, in your eyes, hair, lenses. Still, that's what attracts all the birds I s'pose. It is quite interesting to see all the flies when you get a cold breeze and they all sit tight along the concrete.

Uttoxeter Quarry, 15:15 - 18:30

Not a huge lot out of the ordinary here today. 4 Sand Martins and 4 Fieldfare in a season-crossover stylee. 2 Green Sandpipers, 12 Goosander, Curlew, Oystercatcher and intruigingly 13 Barnacle Geese. From Whitemoor Haye? Who knows, but I couldn't make out any ringed birds.

More worryingly though were a group of kids who decided to ignore the "Keep Out" signs and started walking around the increasing shoreline. This is two Sundays in a row that I've seen people do this, and it worries me for two reasons.

1. Much more of it and any ground nesting birds have got no chance.

2. If someone drowns (a good reason to continue pumping the water out!), security and access will be clamped down. Then birders get the blame for further breaches.

So don't do it folks, I won't be very pleased with you. In fact, just follow Alvin's advice:

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Three Dippers in a Day

Saturday 21st March.

Something a bit different this time. I had a friend from the India trip over to stay for the weekend.

As Fran is from Norfolk, I thought "Hmm, where could Staffordshire out-do Norfolk, bird-wise?". Tricky I know. But, apart from the odd contintenal Black-Bellied Dipper (such as the bird on the River Glaven this winter), then our good-old British Dipper does the bizzo!

I managed to get Fran onto three Dippers today. A pair at Danebridge, on the Staffs/Cheshire border, and one at Oakamoor in the Churnet Valley. Fran is also a bit of a culture-vulture and a fan of castles. So not all that far from Danebridge, is Mow Cop Folly:

(mental note, perhaps "Local Tours for Local People" should also include culture as well as wildlife).

Sunday 22nd March.

Fran eventually had to travel back home to Norfolk. I then went out to do some birding during the afternoon. Did I say I'd bide my time for Avocet? Well, er, a week was enough! I eventually found the gravel pit at the huge complex between Branston and Barton-under-Needwood (it really has grown!), with the Avocet and the Ruff on.

Following Branston GP's, Uttoxeter Quarry didn't hold much. Thanks to some eejit walking his dog around most of the newly-pumped out shoreline. Grr! After giving that up as a bad job, I decided to drive back home. However, prior to that I thought I would check Croxden Quarry.

About half a mile or so before arriving there, for some unknown reason I decided to turn my head to the right. And what was there? Only a bloomin Red Kite!

After years of looking, that's my first Staffs Red Kite! And like waiting for a bus, my second in the midlands after the bird at Shawell last week (well, if you don't count those seen along the M40!). I'm keeping my eye teeth.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Spring into Action

Saturday 14th March. Shawell, Leicestershire, 12:30 - 14:30.

Actually, I wasn't planning on doing any birding today, but toying with the idea of going to footy. I was umming and aahing all morning, especially as Burton Albion are now in the middle of a serious wobble in their quest for the league title. Fickle, me? Nah!

Andy texted me asking if I would like to twitch a Kumlien's Gull, so that was an easy enough decision. Although I have say I didn't know where it was until I checked Never heard of Shawell in Leicestershire before, it's between Lutterworth and Rugby. So off we went, with Nobby and "Man on a Mission" Malc, armed with his new pager.

Similarly to Stubber's Green and Coldmeece Pools, the balancing lake here is near to a rubbish tip, thus attracting lots of gulls. Unfortunately we were told that the Kumlien's Gull had taken off towards the tip before we arrived. During a two-hour or so wait, eventually all the gulls took off, and as such we dipped.

But it wasn't an entire waste of time. A Red Kite passed over heading south, presumably leaving the tip after a feed. Then while driving around the general area, trying to find some gulls after they all took off, we found a large flock south of Watling Street that contained a summer plumaged adult Mediterranean Gull. Thankfully it was right at the front of the flock as they flew across the field, but frustratingly all landed over the brow of a ploughed field and out of sight.

At the time of writing, it has occurred to me that Watling Street (The A5) forms the border between Leicestershire and Warwickshire at Shawell. Both the Red Kite and Med Gull were seen in Warwickshire airspace. So to all those West Midland Bird Club year-listers that haven't seen either Red Kite or Med Gull yet this year, nah-nah nah-nah-naaaahhhhh. Actually, before I start receiving abusive comments, I'd give my eye teeth to see a Red Kite in Staffs!

By the way, the Brewers lost 2-1.

Sunday 15th March, Uttoxeter Quarry, 9:00 - 11:30.

Get in, come on spring...................

Having said that though, I'm sure digiscoping was easier at Bharatpur! Less of a breeze over there. In addition to my first spring migrant of the year, there was a magnificent drake Pintail, 1 Green Sandpiper, 2 Curlew, 2 Oystercatcher, 2 Shelduck, 20 Goosander, 2 Willow Tit and still a taste of winter, 21 Fieldfare.

After getting my big shop for the week done at Tescos, I did think about heading over to Branston, an old stomping ground of mine (although it's changed a bit since I left home eight years ago), to see the Avocet and Ruff. But I decided to save petrol and bide my time with those. Instead, I decided to look around a few different spots around home.

A couple of them are places I do visit quite often. But for some reason, mainly the lack of birds, they don't get blogged very much. In fact not at all, until now!

This bloomin desolate hole, is Croxden Quarry. Just look at these lagoons, they look ideal for passage waders. But compared to Uttoxeter Quarry, which is right next to the River Dove, they get very little on them. Being next to a main river is a big help for attracting passage migrants. Croxden does have its moments though, Yellow-Legged Gull is my best find.

This is Great Gate. Which is a lovely little area of woodland and some small lakes. I was told by another local birder, Jim, last year of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker here. Not for the want of trying, I've never seen one here, which is quite typical for the species. Not seen today either.

And here, I'll let you into a secret. This is an area I'm thinking of covering as regularly as I can for a spring migration patch, the Weaver Hills. Inspired by Berry Hill in Stoke, it's just to the north of Alton, the highest point for miles around, and as far as I can tell no birders cover it.

Time constraints of having to go to work, and other possible spring twitching necessities, may limit the amount of effort I can put in here, but we'll see. Even if I can find the odd Wheatear up here it'll be worth it. You never know, maybe even Ring Ouzel or Dotterel. But even if there's no birds to be seen, just look at this for a view! At the time I could make out Rugeley power station and The Wrekin.

Monday, 9 March 2009

A Question of Hides Part II, Brandon Marsh Special

Looking at appointments in my diary. Birding, and thus blogging, may be a little limited over the next couple of weeks. So, to pass the time, I'm bringing back my occasional item. Celebrity hide names!

By the way, thank you so much to everyone who suggested names for this item. All three of you, you know who you are, it's much appreciated! They will be used in a part 3, and beyond if I think of any more. Keep them coming in folks!

I was disappointed to learn that the new Tad Bay hide at Blithers is still called "Stansley Wood Hide". Oh well. I'm still waiting for the day that Keith Chegwin becomes a birder. Speaking of new hides at Blithfield, I forgot to mention the new hide at Beech Tree point also looks a cracker. Well, as hides go anyway. But definitely useful for winter gull roosts.

Anyway, to the hide names. It's been many years since I last visited Brandon Marsh. But, during my student days in Coventry, I did visit there a few times. I seem to remember dipping a Wilson's Phalarope there in 1996, but I'm over it now. Little did I realise then that this nature reserve would give me so much material (what a great place!).

Would you believe, that some of the hides at Brandon are named after:

Carlton Palmer.

Mick Taylor (he who replaced Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones, and of course , preceded Ronnie Wood).

Ian Wright (Burton Albion had an Ian Wright for a season, a few years ago, not this one though).

Mike Baldwin (er, I'll just ignore the "John" on that hide! And Don Brennan trying to bump him off in the background).

So, as Harry Hill would say, you get the idea with that. Keep them coming folks.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Havin' a Real Barney!

Saturday 7th March, Cannock Chase, 8:00 - 11:40

A bit of a marathon stint today, starting off on a calm, sunny Cannock Chase with the Brightsiders.

Various spots were covered, including a new area for me, the Glacial Boulder. If I'm being honest, I thought the boulder was a bit of a disappointment. I was expecting a great big huge thing that's been there for thousands of years. So to see a rather small boulder, that's from Scotland apparently (watch out, Alex Salmond will be wanting it back, see "Stone of Scoun"), on a concrete plinth, was a bit of a let down.

Birding highlights included 15 Crossbills around the cadet huts, plus Stonechat, a few Yellowhammer, Willow Tit, Green Woodpeckers galore.

As Kay and Max had to head back to Brummyland, I was toying with the idea of heading over to the Seven Springs car park area of the chase. Although knowing it could be busy with people, and the banging of the clay pigeon place next door. So it was a relief to receive a text from Martyn "The artist formerly known as Blurred Birder" Yapp, of a Common Scoter at Blithfield, seen from beech tree point.

Blithfield Reservoir, 12:00 - 14:30

On arrival at the Admaston end of the causeway, sure enough a drake Common Scoter was there. The 4 Scaup were still there, along with 3 Shelduck right in the middle of the deep end.

Then into Tad Bay. Asides from chatting with Martyn about birding, blogging and India, birds here included 8 Goosander, 2 more Shelduck and 2 Raven.

Uttoxeter Quarry, 14:45 - 16:15

As soon as I parked up so did Steve, so we walked round the quarry together. The main highlight for me was a personal site tick, in the form of a pair of Gadwall. Other birds here included 24 Goosander, 2 Green Sandpiper, 3 Oystercatcher, 1 Curlew, 3 Pochard.

I was also glad I wasn't alone today, because at one point Steve and I spotted the latest "local" person, following on from the streaker last year. This chap just stood like a statue within a small copse of trees. Dark, greasy hair and very bushy eyebrows, with a stare like a psychopath. In fact, thinking about it, he reminded me of Tom from "Father Ted", but without the "I Shot JR" T-shirt:

Then back at our cars, Steve and I passed a butchers van. Oh dear, a psycho AND a butchers van!!!!! Looks like they've got an arrangement with some special stuff, time to go home!

Sunday 8th March, Whitemoor Haye/Croxall area, 12:15 - 15:45

It's about time I got over to Whitemoor Haye to look at some of these wild geese. It has been an excellent winter for wild geese in Staffordshire.

10 Barnacle Geese were there on arrival, including the three ringed birds from Svalbard. As for the others I suppose it's anyone's guess if they are genuinely wild or feral, I wouldn't like to confirm. Way too blustery to be bothered photographing them, so there should be some photos of them here.

No sign of the Greenland White-Fronted Goose however. But there were 2 Ringed Plover, 2 Oystercatcher, 1 Redshank.

Also showing at Whitemoor Haye was Barry (I suppose my birding mentor as a young lad), Martyn "Changing his identity more than David Bowie" Yapp, and Mr Archie Archer. I really should've introduced myself, and I apologise for not doing so. Wasn't deliberate, but I've seen his "Birder Profiles" and I'm a bit worried!

Monday, 2 March 2009

Back to Reality

Actually, as exciting and vibrant a destination that India is, I think living there would drive me mad. Got to come home at some point. Bills need paying and I need for money for another trip somewhere.

A little bit of Blighty Birding has been done since:

Friday 27th February, Doxey Marshes.

1 Water Pipit, seen from the scrape with the reed-screened viewpoint during my lunch break.

Saturday 28th February, Uttoxeter Quarry.

A nice number of Curlew has built up to 32. Also 2 Green Sandpiper, 2 Oystercatcher and 19 Goosander.

Sunday 1st March.

25 Curlew at Uttoxeter Quarry. Also a Dipper in the River Churnet at Oakamoor.

But just to relive past glories, here's a link to the best of my
holiday snaps on Flickr.

However, if want to see shots from REAL photographers, you'd be much better off looking at these!